Quarantine and public health
Evocation of the first installations, 1832
Illustration by Bernard Duchesne Parks Canada, 1996
- Development of the Grosse Île station
- The great epidemics
- Modernism and efficiency
- The 20th century
Development of the Grosse Île station
Throughout its existence, the human quarantine station on Grosse Île served to monitor public health at the St. Lawrence gateway to Canada. From the time it opened in 1832 until it finally closed in 1937, a variety of events were to mark the station’s history; however, certain developments produced significant repercussions on its evolution.
The great epidemics
The Grosse Île station came into existence in a special context. After the Napoleonic wars ended, increasing numbers of people started to leave England, Ireland and Scotland to make a new life in North America. Around 1830, when Québec City was by far Canada’s largest port of entry, the exodus resulted annually in 30 000 new arrivals to this city alone; approximately two thirds of this number came from Ireland. This unprecedented influx of immigration through the St. Lawrence coincided with the great epidemics then rampant on both the Continent and Great Britain. The second cholera pandemic (1829-1837) struck England in 1831-1832; it was the emigrants, including the many Irish passengers embarking at English ports, who brought cholera to America and Canada.
Foreseeing the arrival of this terrible disease in the St. Lawrence valley, the colonial authorities established a full-fledged quarantine station at Grosse Île, downstream from Québec City. This checkpoint was once again confronted with cholera in 1834, and then was faced with the even deadlier typhus epidemic of 1847-1848. Once again, most of the victims were Irish immigrants. This era of virulent epidemics came to an end after another outbreak of cholera in 1854.
The early decades of the Grosse Île quarantine station were coloured by other particular characteristics: colonial management of what then was termed “British emigration,” which went forward in the absence of any control by Canadian representatives over this movement of peoples; improvised quarantine facilities operated by inexperienced staff; ignorance of the causes and carriers of infectious diseases; a chronic inability to safely care for, and minister to the vast tide of immigrants, especially the sick. Adding to this already grim picture, the lengthy transatlantic crossings aboard overcrowded and contagion-bearing sailing ships clearly created an uncontrolled, explosive situation which contributed to the deaths of thousands of Irish immigrants on Grosse Île in 1847.
Origin and context of the project
Quarantine and public health
1847, year of tragedy
Canadian immigration in Québec City during the years of the Grosse Île quarantine station